Sarah Blau On:
Philomel Cottage by Agatha Christie
This short and sophisticated story is, in my eyes, one of Agatha Christie’s finest, being both like and unlike her other stories. It takes place in the familiar British countryside and focuses on a criminal who is concealing his crime. A random local inadvertently helps reveal the truth, and order is finally restored when the identity of the murder is uncovered by the person who was supposed to be his last victim. So far, it seems like a classic Christie story, but in many respects “Philomel Cottage” is a deep, intricate and unusual story.
“The psychology is what counts most” Hercule Poirot the short Belgian detective once said and this story is all about psychology and the subconscious of the most private places in the human soul.
The protagonists of the story are Alix and Gerald Martin, newlyweds who have just moved in to a nice little cottage, but hidden secrets and dark shadows sneak in at the very start of their relationship. The story begins with a dream Alix has in which she is happy about her husband’s death and continues with a darkness that tightens its grip around them as the story unfolds. But who is the truly dark one among them? The murderer or the victim? Who is the one manipulating the relationship? and who is the one who knows his “better half” better? Ostensibly, this is another crime story, but in my eyes this is also a story with fascinating psychological significance. The story of spouses who turn out to be strangers; their alienation is absolute, final – it is an alienation that ends in death.
Even now, long after reading the story, I still feel trapped in the mental world woven by “Philomel Cottage”.